Dougherty: Multi-meeting deals can definitely save time, effort and money if you like the operating style of a particular chain or hotel. Benchmarc has done these with chains and particular hotels. But I think in order to do that it’s best to work with your global sales manager, because they know your history and performance.
Woodin: Your global sales rep will work on your behalf to reach the hotels that have availability after you source. You can ask, “If I go to these three destinations in these three years and stay within your flag, can you find out what the hotels are willing to do?” And there are the obvious things like better rates than they would give you if it was a single meeting, and the concessions definitely get increased quite a lot because they’d rather see it stay in their brand than go out to another brand.
Coppola: Unfortunately [we haven’t negotiated multi-meeting deals] as of late because the future of the meetings industry is rather unstable. Without really knowing whether an event is going to happen the following year we kind of avoid getting ourselves into those contractual obligations. So we’re taking a shorter view, acknowledging that we may be forgoing some cost savings.
IMPACT OF MARRIOTT’S ACQUISITION OF STARWOOD
Woodin: It will be a positive thing once they figure out how to put these companies together. They’re starting with their point system, and then they’ll go to the next level and decide how many brands they’re going keep, and [where to] consolidate and sell some of them off. They’re still operating separately so [booking with either] is not yet seen as staying within the same brand. But that is coming and will give us more leverage because [we’ll have more meetings] under one brand.
Coppola: I think both brands are great; they offer a lot of variety within all the different types of hotels, from boutiquey to more on the convention side. So I absolutely think that [the acquisition] will be beneficial. Also, from an attendee standpoint, people are very loyal to their hotel brand, and if they can be getting points at more hotels that we’re using that will make them happier.
Dougherty: If you do have some flexibility, even if it’s one week, it can make a big difference to a property and your ability to negotiate. [The ideal meeting dates] depends on the property and where they’re getting their largest amount of transient business.
Woodin: If we want to arrive on a Tuesday in downtown Chicago, the hotels are going to laugh at me, because Tuesday and Wednesday are peak business traveler days and they can sell it 10 times over. So have that conversation with your meeting requestor: Can you back up to Monday, or arrive on Thursday? The hotels would love it if you arrive on Sunday, but that might not be possible due to corporate meeting policies of not travelling on a weekend, for example.
OTHER SOURCES OF LEVERAGE
Dougherty: If you have a history of ancillary revenue, it does help to get that information to the hotel, especially if you have it over a period of several years. We don’t believe in having any of that in a contract because that’s not something the hotel should count on, but when you’re negotiating it does help.
Coppola: We hold all the events onsite at the hotel. We also try to use the hotel for any pre and post or ad hoc meetings. And in promising to keep all F&B functions onsite, we’ve been able to really negotiate down or eliminate entirely the room rental fees.
DEALING WITH HIGHER SURCHARGES AND FEES
Woodin: Room rental fees skyrocketed during the seller’s market, as they call it. We try to get every fee and surcharge waived. It’s very difficult for clients to accept that they’re still paying for Internet separate from the room rate, and that’s the biggest complaint we get.
Coppola: We try to negotiate complimentary Internet in the rooms, and I feel that more and more hotels are willing to participate in that. We also have a conversation with them upfront about whether they have an exclusive AV vendor or a preferred vendor, and if there is any benefit to bringing in their preferred vs. ours. Sometimes the pricing is better by using their in-house vendor.
Dougherty: We’ve had some very good luck negotiating discounted rigging costs for our clients as well as being able to bring in outside vendors at a more competitive rate without having additional fees charged.
Woodin: When you get a good room rate as a planner you then have to be really careful to ask what else is on top of that room rate. Maybe your group is only 25 people and that particular hotel is going to charge you $150 just to set the buffet out because you’re under 50. So we require our hotels to disclose all of those fees up front or they can’t charge us.